tv Washington Journal Dave Levinthal CSPAN May 5, 2018 8:02am-8:35am EDT
to strengthen the middle class. sunday, talking about conservatism in the age of donald trump. c-span3,an history tv tonight at 8:00 p.m. eastern on lectures in history, brian matthew jordan on the 1864 civil war overland campaign. sunday at 11:00 eastern, a new monument at arlington national cemetery to honor the most 5000 -- honor the almost 5000 helicopter pilots and crews killed in the vietnam war. monday morning, we are in lincoln, nebraska, for the next stop on the c-span bus 50 capital store. governor pete ricketts will be our guest during "washington
journal," starting at 9:45 eastern. >> "washington journal" continues. host: joining us is dave levinthal, senior political reporter at the center for public integrity. he is here to talk about the state of the federal election commission and its ability to oversee campaign-finance laws. guest: good to be with you. host: let's remind our viewers what is the fec. guest: the federal election commission was created in the aftermath of watergate. it was proposed as sort of an elixir to bring order to what of course was a very turbulent campaign, the watergate scandal. very quickly, it was not necessarily is powerful as people across the country would have liked, although it was designed as a bipartisan agency that would not be dominated
either by republicans or democrats. that has proven to be a good thing. occasions, it has not been an overriding late partisan body , but many critics would say it means there will be some inherent gridlock or disagreement on the commission that will lead to it not being a strong regulator. , itom line for the fec regulates and enforces campaign-finance laws for the country, which is an important role when you have billions upon aliens of dollars flowing into elections and being used to a -- billions of dollars flowing into elections. host: is the fec the only game in town, the only agency that regulates campaign-finance law? guest: it is the primary agency but not the only agency. the fec deals with civil matters
. the worst they can do to you if you are a campaign-finance scofflaw is to find you and publicly embarrass you potentially as well. if there are criminal call -- criminal applications that may be put forth against the politician, political campaign, political action committee or super pac, groups that can raise unlimited amounts of money and amounts ofited money, since the citizens united decision, you are looking criminally at the department of justice, which has the mandate to critically -- criminally investigate. the trial heand was on, that was a campaign finance related case in the purview of the department of justice. even the irs gets involved sometimes, because particularly this decade, you have the opportunity post citizens united for certain nonprofit
organizations to get involved in politics and spend money advocating for and against politicians. because the irs has a purview over a nonprofit organizations, exempt organizations, they can get involved, although to a much lesser degree. host: you wrote just a few days ago that the fec is celebrating an anniversary, but you called theubious, talking about term expiration of some of its members. talk about this dubious anniversary. guest: we think of anniversaries sometimes in terms of my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. for the fec it was the anniversary of the four remaining commissioners' terms expiring. the commissioners, and there are six of them, they can serve for six years, one term. that was a law put in place by
congress about two decades ago. however, what we have had is all four commissioners long over serving their long allotted turns and are basically serving in holdover status. even though they do not have a mandate to be there based on their terms, they can stay in office until the president of the united states replaces them. for the vice chairperson weintraub, she has served 11 years past are allotted term. for the other three commissioners it has been nine years, five years, and seven years. their termserstayed and a lot of people are saying, who is to blame? you can cast blame on a lot of people, number one president barack obama. he did not offer replacements for those commissioners that are serving right now, during his term. president donald trump has not nominated anyone, save for one person, to the fec.
three current commissioners and three vacant spots that are not occupied by anyone at this point, he has not offered up anyone, which is somewhat curious given that he has accused democrats of obstructing his nominees frequently. he just has not offered any. congress plays a role in this too, because they have confirm and approve any presidential nominee. in the case of trade trainer, a lawyer from texas, donald trump nominated him more than seven months ago in congress has not even conducted a congressional hearing, set the confirmation hearing. he is sort of off in limbo right now. this is all kind of important in needsnse that the fec four commissioners serving at minimum to conduct high-level business. if they lose one commissioner for any reason, then the fec
simply cannot function in the midst of the 2018 midterm election cycle. that would be by any measure, not the best thing for the country. host: we are talking with dave levinthal of the center for public integrity. we are talking about the fec, its role and ability to function and oversee campaign finance laws. democrats can call in at (202) 748-8000. republicans, (202) 748-8001. independents, (202) 748-8002. you mentioned the current makeup of the fec, two democrats and two republicans. can you explain the nature of the relationship of these folks? is it divisive and cantankerous or just at a regular logjam in terms of its ability to function? guest: on a personal level, they do not get along very well. a diverse set of personalities, in particular the chairperson is
a republican and the vice chairperson, they have had some very public battles with each philosophically and sometimes more personal. we saw that in the last meeting that the fec conducted where they were at each other over a trip that ellen weintraub had taken to lithuania, which ultimately because of her departure from washington, d.c., forced the fec to cancel a meeting with chairman hunter took some umbrage to. i talked to a lot of fec commissioners who had previously served. both republicans and democrats said, when you have people who have been together for a very long time, there is really nothing to know more about one another. they are ideologically polarized in some cases. then it is maybe sometime for -- time for some new blood.
having experience at the fec is a good thing in the sense that they have to run a small government agency of about 330 people. president trump tomorrow, today, with a tweet could say, i am nominating a whole slate of commissioners. that, he has every right to do. he singularly has the ability to nominate new fec commissioners. he has not done so, save for the one he puts forth. don mcgann has been in the news lately and is a former fec chairman and commissioner, someone who believes strongly in deregulating the campaign-finance system. this may simply not be a top priority for donald trump, or a priority at all. host: to put a finer point on it, i want to read part of what you wrote about the ability to add someone, or what could happen if someone leaves.
"the fec in the midst of a critical midterm election campaign, is teetering on the brink of a defective shutdown. if one commissioner retires, assigns, or is not present, the agency that regulates and enforces campaign money laws cannot conduct high-level business. no passing roles. no penalizing scofflaws. no providing official advice to political committees seeking it." is it all of these things are pretty happening with the current logjam on the fec? guest: in deference to fec commissioners, they will make the argument that, we get along sometimes and we are able to pass roles -- rules. at their last meeting, they had an audit report in the works for many months that dealt with the congresswoman from arizona. they unanimously were able to
approve that. they unanimously dismissed a charge against senator roy blunt. they can get along on some things. i think it is the high-profile matters we are talking about here where they simply cannot get along. even if they are operating, even if they have enough commissioners to conduct business and do not go into this de facto high-level business shutdown, it is very difficult for them to find commonality and common ground among very politically fraught issues. we have seen statistically that the deadlocks have been more frequent today and in recent years then perhaps they were a fec generation ago. high we will get to a profile and politically fraught campaign-finance issue in a minute. let's get to some callers. judith is on our democratic line from austin, texas. caller: i am not sure i am smart
enough to ask a question, but does the campaign laws that you are talking about, does that regulate what they call the dirty money in politics, or the very wealthy people contribute to campaigns and therefore making the law in favor of what they want? host: go ahead. i think iscaller talking particularly about the huge sums of money that can flow into the political process, which was made easier than ever after the -- at least in modern political history -- after the supreme court case that we talked about a moment ago, citizens united. if you are a very wealthy individual, if you have a million dollars or $10 million, there are several prominent mega-donors from texas and other states as well, what they can do is effectively give them money to what is called the super pac.
the super pac can spend that money to advocate for a politician. to the caller's question, the fec does regulate that activity, although super pac's in general are very lightly regulated. to add another layer of complexity, you have these nonprofit organizations called c-4 groups known as welfare organizations. as long as they do not engage in elect oral politics, they can spend about half of their money on electoral politics nonetheless. you might've heard the term "dark money." it is money that an individual can give to one of these nonprofit groups that in turn spends it on a political election. if you ask the question, who gave the money in the first place to that nonprofit group, they run political ads, tv,
digital, radio communications to beat up on a senate candidate or presidential candidate, or lovingly promote them, you cannot get to the root of that answer because we simply do not know, or it is difficult to find out. is very much involved in regulating it, but to the extent that they will put the conn's on on thativity, -- kabash activity, that does not happen very often and you have conservative saying that is not bad at all. money should be treated just like any other thing in terms of political communication, and if you are a rich individual who wants to spend a lot of money, who is the government to tell you you do not have a right to do that? that is the argument you often hear on the right, versus the left which wants to regulate the activity at large. host: you wrote an analysis about a particular case that could be both high-profile and politically fraught.
there is a question of whether there was a campaign-finance violation in a payment to stephanie clifford, nona stormy daniels, made by michael cohen and reimbursed by president trump. you write, "common cause filed a complaint against drunk and his present -- trump and his presidential campaign, accusing them of violating financial law in relation to the daniels payment. does be shocked if the fec not rule on the complaint until after the 2020 presidential election, when it is conceivable trump is no longer president." to actthe fec is slow and rule on these types of cases, particularly ones that are high-profile that may have a great deal of complexity, and are just difficult to ultimately get to the core truth. we have seen this numerous times
in many cases involving both democratic and republican operations, conservative and liberal. there is no partisan bend for say -- or say. -- per se. the fec needs to clear certain hurdles to get a case such as this to the level. the office of general counsel, who will do much of the vetting and investigating, can take months in order to do their work. in some rare cases that are very real, they will take more than a few months. by then, the commissioners have to deal with it themselves, and we have some examples where cases such as this have taken several years in order to come to fruition. 2018 right now, donald trump is running for reelection effectively right now. many people forget that he filed for reelection to run in the 2020 campaign on the day of his inauguration, just a few blocks
away from here. he was raising money and campaigning for his reelection a full four years before election day. the fec, when it takes time like that, is going to ultimately rule when it does. 2020, 2021,2019 or 2022. we do not know. host: john is on the republican line from loving, new mexico. caller: i am just sitting here listening. 20 cases on their books for two , the commissioners cannot get along or agree, cases coming up maybe years before they are resolved. it seems to me that this is just bureaucracyrnment that is either out of control or
uncontrollable, and just a waste of time. i do not understand why you have 400 or 500 people working on stuff. nothing gets done. why it is a concern that the fec does not have more commissioners to disagree, it seems like chaos in a package. host: what is your response? , this may be a low profile but an incredibly critical one, it is a disclosure agency as well as an enforcement agency. anytime a political candidate or committee discloses or files paperwork in order to show who has given him money, where it is spending its money, whether it has any debt, the fec processes all that information. if the fec was not there to do that, that information might not be disclosed. to the point about the chaos of
the fec, there have been plenty of people on capitol hill, lawmakers mostly on the left, that some on the right, and i think john mccain would be a prime example of a republican who has been very outspoken about the state of the fec. they have made the argument the it should be changed, that should be some sort of agency instead of having an even six commissioner situation as it does now. that it should be a five commissioner situation, perhaps, where every vote would have a majority and you would not have gridlock and deadlocks as of the sort you see right now. is that realistic? congress often times cannot agree that the sky is blue. republicans and democrats adding together to act on something like the fec will probably be difficult. that all being said, it is something that almost every congressional cycle on capitol
hill, they are talking about elections or the fec, and there are bills pending that would change the nature of the fec and money in politics in this country. it does not appear they are on a fast-track to every -- anywhere, excepting frozen out until the next goal alone -- go around. host: rudy giuliani is now an attorney for president trump, and what he said about the payment that michael cohen made and whether in finance campaign-finance laws. >> having something to do with paying some stormy daniels woman $130,000, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. that money was not campaign money. sorry, i am giving you a fact you do not know. it is not campaign money. no campaign finance violation. they funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it. >> he did?
there is no campaign-finance law? >> zero. host: is there zero campaign financial violation or no? guest: that is something the fec will be tackling and potentially the department of justice. the two concerns the fec will be looking at because of a complaint filed is the notion lawyer forl cohen, donald trump who made the payments through in llc -- an llc, effectively made an in-kind contribution to donald trumps campaign in giving this hush money to stormy daniels. the argument, if you believe it, is this money benefited donald trump's campaign and must be disclosed. the other notion is that donald trump, by giving the money himself or by being the originator of this payment, if
he did that and did not disclose it as a contribution to his own campaign that benefited his campaign, he would be the one in violation. you heard what rudy giuliani has said. there has been some retrenching an additional comments behind that, but those are the arguments. what you hear from the trump side of this equation is that no, this is not a campaign-finance matter. i talked to several lawyers who made the point that you can make a payment that seems to potentially influence a political campaign, but it is not breaking the campaign finance law on the books necessarily. is, if donaldoo trump to pay hush money to stormy daniels, it is better that he do that out of his personal funds than out of campaign funds, which would've been a campaign expenditure. it is not like everyone is paying hush money to adult film
actresses every day, but this was the case and whether it is a campaign-finance violations, a little unclear. there is another issue donald trump has to worry about which is on his personal financial disclosure form, which presidential candidates and presidents must file by law every year. indicatednothing that donald trump owed any debt or liability to michael cohen. this payment was never listed, and you are supposed to make personal debts that you make to other people, on these forms. that could potentially be problematic for the president and it is unclear where that will go. host: marilyn is calling from brook park, ohio on our democrat line. caller: david, thank you for being on the air. i appreciate you talking about this topic, which i heavily want
to understand and get involved in. is it thatate level we as citizens cannot do something to get these laws put on the ballots so we can vote against them? it seems to me these elections are basically bought and the people's voices are being drowned. they are not getting the opportunity to fight this and go to politicians and say, are you standing up for this or not? the last president that cared about it was bill clinton. now we are stuck with these laws that people are getting caught in the crossfire, and we may as well throw away our vote. host: i want to give dave a chance to respond. guest: she brought up a good point about a federal level versus state-level action. when we are talking about the federal election commission, we are only talking about federal elections. they do not deal with gubernatorial elections or state legislature at elections -- legislature elections.
all 50 states have their own set of rules and regulations that will govern campaign contributions. municipalities will have their own rules and regulations. we have seen sort of a hodgepodge of election laws that deal with state-level elections, gubernatorial elections, and what is the case in ohio may be different from the case in california or florida or texas .r new york or any other state you have seen examples of some states, particularly california, that have been fairly aggressive in the way that they are requiring campaigns and ballot initiative campaigns, for example, to operate. sometimes disclosure becomes a very critical aspect of any rules and regulations put in place. we definitely have states across the country that more or less have stronger sorts of campaign finance and election laws on
their books then what would be the case at the federal level or a congressional race or a presidential election race. host: alex is on our independent line from lexington, kentucky. caller: you know what i find interesting? it is always that last caller, the democrat on the left talking about where our votes are going to. for the past eight years, they have had nothing but socialism and now they act like they are the underdogs because the right is back in office. it is ridiculous. i used to work for a multilevel marketing company that polluted politically clean water. what with the fec do about that kind of company? host: i want to give dave a chance to answer. guest: the crux of the question is about, is there going to be an advantage of one party over another? that is a major concern. period of was for any
time dominated by republicans or democrats, it would get even more partisan. arguably, the fec is not nearly as partisan as it is ideologically divided. there are interpretations of law, and one of their jobs is to interpret the law that has been written by congress. republicans are often times critical of democrats on the fec , saying the democrats are trying to enforce laws that do not exist, they are trained to use the fec not as a regulatory body but a lawmaking body, and that is not its role. you hear from the democrats, the republicans are ignoring the loss and not even paying attention to them -- laws and not even paying attention to them. robin is on our independent line from coleman, alabama. caller: good morning, c-span.
i have a question for dave levinthal. i want to know if he believes that trump committed any , andign-finance regulation does he believe that the clintons and democrats violated any in the last election? host: go ahead, dave. what is your conclusion? guest: the jury very much is still out on whether donald trump violated a law or not. that is why we have a process and will go through a process. of goings on the hook through this process because an entity has filed a complaint. that there isled nothing to be done and they will dismiss the complaint, but it is possible they may take a different direction. the case may be resolved when we have a different slate of commissioners, and it would be difficult to predict outcome of these if we do not vote -- know who the players are.
for hillary clinton and barack obama, the fec has ruled that day or people closely associated to them have violated campaign-finance laws it sometime. barack obama-2008 -- barack campaign, they determined it violated election laws and they ultimately agreed to pay a $375,000 settlement, i believe the number was, to settle that case and pay a fine. hillary clinton's super pac's that had been associated in supporting her campaign, on a couple of occasions he caught them in illegal activities. the fec was looking into that as well. democrats, republicans, everyone gets caught up through the fec's umbrella and nobody is immune. host: the center for public integrity's dave levinthal.
you can find his work at public integrity.org and find him on twitter. thank you for joining us. guest: good to be with you. host: next, we will be taking your calls. democrats can call (202) 748-8000. republicans, (202) 748-8001, and independents, (202) 748-8002. talkedek's "newsmakers" to the head of a major democratic super pac. he talked about what motivates voters, and it is not a confident discussion of donald trump. >> it is certainly important for us to hold donald trump a -- accountable, but if all we are doing is talking about him, that is not a motivating factor for many lineal voters. living, reading embodiments of why they think the system is working against them. only talking about trump has a
negative impact on their interest in the election, and highlights the point that donald trump is not going to let the election be anything other than a referendum on donald trump. when you turn on cnn and other news networks, the entire conversation is about stormy and mueller and the investigation, and those are important, but is not what will decide the election. convincing democrats that yes, we need to hold trump accountable but we need to get back to talking about bread-and-butter issues that affect these communities like rendell justice, is very is criminal justice, is very important. >> did you ask democrats not to focus on impeachment? >> i tend to be agnostic on the impeachment debate of whether it is helping or hurting. partisans on both sides are already in their corners, and independents who are not paying attention to everything are not
paying attention to telephone ads or arguments about impeachment when their kids are out of school in the summer. issues of stormy daniels and michael cohen, we should let investigations proceed. in the course of their business as part of oversight, we certainly want our elected representatives to focus on holding the trump administration and all the various pieces of it, accountable. that is different than choosing it as the basis for which you are running for office. the more we focus on where people are and what they care about, and the less we focus on washington, the better we will be in those states and the house races around the country. >> "washington journal" continues. host: we are taking your calls this segment. let us know what is on your mind. democrats can call (202) 748-8000. republicans can call (202) 748-8001.